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Once a week is not enough for Samantha Bee's 'Full Frontal'

If Samantha Bee’s game plan for “Full Frontal,” her new TBS late-night show that debuted Monday night, was to leave the audience wanting more, she certainly succeeded.

One minute she was there taking down presidential candidates like Calamity Jane at a Frontierland shooting gallery, and then she was gone, trailing laughter in her wake.

If there's only one female host on late-night, maybe she needs more than an hour. And do we honestly have to wait another week to see her again?

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Bee's debut drew an audience of 2.2 million across the Turner networks, proving many people have been waiting quite a while for "The Daily Show's" longest-running correspondent to get her own show.

Certainly anticipation has been high since last fall, when Vanity Fair ran a story with the headline “Why Late-Night Television Is Better Than Ever” and no real discussion of the fact that the accompanying photo made painfully clear: that late night is the most male-dominated field this side of the NFL, a comic Sterling Cooper, before Peggy and Joan had a seat at the table.

Bee responded to the magazine’s claim that it had talked to “all the titans of late-night” by tweeting the photo with a picture of herself as a laser-eyed centaur inserted into its ranks.

Those already irritated by CBS' decision that no woman was good enough to host even "The Late, Late Show" or Comedy Central's choice of two more men for the slots left empty by Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert grew incensed. The countdown Bee's debut began, drawing more attention, and putting  more pressure on "Full Frontal" than was usual for a show on TBS, (which some have criticized for not making the weekly aspect clear enough.)

As late-night's new first lady (Chelsea Handler, who held the position for years on E! will be returning, on Netflix, in May), Bee addressed her new status as feminist symbol directly and immediately. In addition to the title, “Full Frontal” opened with a faux news conference in which every question she was asked included the phrase “as a woman” and she revealed exactly what sort of “magic” is involved in getting a female-led late-night show off the ground.

The very scary kind.

Then she was off to the races, describing a level of frustration that only a “Daily Show” alum can feel watching such a “deranged” presidential election unfold while she waited for her premiere. Like former boss Jon Stewart and former colleague Stephen Colbert, Bee favors a comedic macrame of news clips laced with comedic commentary. First came the Democrats— “Hermione Clinton;” how have I never heard/said this!--but they were mere bagatelle. Bee admittedly could not wait to get to the Republicans and their “banquet of all you can eat crazy.”

Many jokes were made but a cut from Ted Cruz saying “tonight the state of Iowa has spoken…to God be the glory” to Bee humming as she fashioned her post-Cruz election noose pushed the show into laugh-until-you-cry territory, and she was only six minutes in.

Alas, those minutes flew by like seconds, taking us too quickly to Bee’s introduction of “Elected Paperweight of the Month,” in this case Kansas State Sen. Mitch Holmes, who recently wrote a dress code for the State Senate aimed only at women.

 Bee had a field day, and if the targets and tone of her comedy were clearly flavored by her “Daily Show” roots,  Bee’s voice is completely her own. Not for her the desk favored by all her male competitors or the couch required by the women of daytime; Bee stands tall like CNN's John King before his magic screens.  She does not care that her red jacket may not have been the best choice for her aggressively purple set. She has better things to do. 

Like pointing out that Marco Rubio’s insistence that Hillary Clinton thinks all abortion should be legal “even on the due date of that unborn child” is “literally the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard” and calling out public officials who feel unable to do their jobs “because Shelley wore skinny jeans on Arbor Day.”

And though she didn’t ever transform into a centaur shooting lasers from its eyes, she did effectively use some big scary voices once in a while.

The only bad thing about the premier of “Full Frontal” was its brevity. What with commercials, the time with Bee felt so dazzlingly fleet that during the show’s last segment, a brilliant Herzogian look at Jeb Bush in New Hampshire, it was difficult not to begrudge the Bee-less minutes.

Even the ones filled with a HuffPo reporter going deer-in-headlights over a remarkably large breakfast or Jeb Bush being asked if the campaign process “is like the brilliant night sky whose beauty obscures the fact that it’s a terrifying endless void.” (Not at all; he thinks campaigning is fun.)

It just felt so much shorter than other half late-night shows. Of course over at HBO "Last Week Tonight With John Oliver" doesn't have to cope with commercials. Or maybe it's just the lack of the desk that made the time go by so fast.

Either way, it's clear Bee knows how to make every second count.

An earlier version of this story said "Last Week Tonight With John Oliver" was an hour long.

mary.mcnamara@latimes.com

Follow me @MaryMacTV

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATE

Updated at 2:29 p.m.: Text has been added to this post to reflect updated information on the show's ratings.

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